You’d think landlords would be beating down her door, not the other way around. Dolores Fuller represents hundreds of tenants eager to move in. They’re ready to sign leases with utility allowances and security deposits backed by the federal government, no less. But most landlords flatly say no to the deal.
As the first and only “landlord recruiter” for the Dallas Housing Authority’s year-old Landlord Outreach Program, Fuller’s mission is to convince landlords in traditionally white neighborhoods to lease to minority families, most of whom are relocating from public housing projects with the help of housing vouchers.
As of May, 1,195 eligible families-one-fifth of all families who live in Dallas housing projects-were seeking private housing with vouchers or Section 8 certificates. Several thousand more families have signed up to wait their turn for eligibility and a ticket to a new way of life.
Fuller estimates that only 8 to 10 percent of the landlords she approaches agree to participate in the housing-voucher program. But it could be worse, “The bad housing market has been a blessing in disguise for us,” says the former Ebby Halli-day sales agent. “The soft market has made landlords a little more desperate.”
Which communities say no the most? “It’s the small suburbs where people are very close and protective of their territory.” she says. “Carrollton, Farmers Branch, DeSoto, Cedar Hill, and Lancaster are the worst. They’ll say, ’we don’t want that kind of people here.””
In the past year, Fuller has recruited more than 245 landlords, ranging from majors like Southmark Management Company to mom-and-pop apartment complexes. But she says that all too often, landlords lose interest when they learn the typical program participant is a black single mother, poor, uneducated, and unemployed.
“That’s a real tough issue,” responded Susan McNabb, director of investment management for Hall Financial Group, when asked why her company rejected the program. “I’m going to have to decline comment. It didn’t fit with us and the needs of our properties at the time.”
But most landlords who participate in the program are glad they did, says Fuller. “We had some concerns about it, but we’re thrilled it’s turned out so well,” says Brenda Shelley, property supervisor of the 320-unit Mountain Valley Apartments in Southwest Dallas. She estimates that housing-voucher tenants make up at least 10 percent of her tenants. “We’ve only had three evictions, and that’s about what we’d have for this same number of tenants anyway.”